Alaska flocks to local eggs after salmonella scare

An outbreak of salmonella at two Iowa farms triggered a national recall of more than a half-billion eggs last week.While the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation found that none of the potentially contaminated eggs were sold in the state, the recall seems to have boosted Fairbanks'...

An outbreak of salmonella at two Iowa farms triggered a national recall of more than a half-billion eggs last week.

While the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation found that none of the potentially contaminated eggs were sold in the state, the recall seems to have boosted Fairbanks' already large appetite for farm-fresh eggs.

"There's absolutely a huge demand," said Jeff Johnson, general manager of HomeGrown Market, which sells Alaska meat, produce and eggs. "The farmers are trying to do what they can, but they didn't foresee this happening."

Johnson's store normally sells about 100 dozen fresh eggs per week supplied from small family farms across the borough. He has been sold out since last week.

It's hard to pin the sales on the egg recall, because demand is consistently high for fresh eggs, local stores said. But there seem to be more new customers and more egg chatter among regular customers than usual.

"Now they're just more aware of it," Johnson said.

Cold Spot Feeds also sells eggs from local farms. Store manager Jane Closut has noticed an increase of egg shoppers, she said.

"If we had them, we'd be selling them hand-over-fist," Closut said. "But we've had quite a few more people inquiring. Of course, recently people are asking, Where do they come from?' Which farm?' Are they clean when you get them?'" she said.

Stores that haven't detected an increase in demand, like Alaska Feed Co., said that could be because demand typically oustrips supply.

"A batch hardly lasts a whole day," said Steve Davila, Alaska Feed's manager.

He has about 12 or 15 suppliers. He sold about 24 dozen last week, which is pretty standard, he said.

"But we're hearing people talk about it more," Davila said.

So are the chicken farmers themselves.

"I have noticed a couple of private people that have never asked for eggs before asking for eggs," said Holly Halvorson, who raises chickens off Nordale Road and sells eggs to HomeGrown Market as well as neighbors.

Because suppliers are mainly small-shop farmers, they can't just ramp up production to meet demand.

"My chickens only lay the number of eggs that they lay. I know Jeff (Johnson) would like more," Halvorson said.

To maintain steady production, flocks must be cycled, which means constantly hatching new eggs, raising chicks, dealing with broody hens and replenishing retiring hens.

Hens lay from about ages 5 months to 2 years, when they start slowing down.

Halvorson has 40 chickens that actively lay eggs (plus seven hens coming online and 20 chicks that will start laying in October). She knows what they eat and where they roam.

"Most of your flocks up here are healthy because the people let them out, so they're free-range," she said.

Large egg producers, like the ones that issues the recall, pack chickens into tight spaces.

"Whatever one has, they all have," she said.

Many consumers simply prefer the taste and the concept of local eggs.

When the recall passes, Fairbanks egg traders don't have to worry about demand for their product falling off.

"I just have people that want locally grown, farm-fresh eggs, something that hasn't been sitting around in salmonella," Closut said.

And enough consumers in Fairbanks also want to buy from a friendly face.

"It's not even so much local as it is buying from a trusted source. They know that I'm not going to buy eggs from caged, horribly treated animals," Johnson said.

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